from Africa in Transition

Hard for Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan Not to Run in 2015-But Can He Win?

December 20, 2013

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Things are churning in Nigeria. There is the publication of former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter to President Goodluck Jonathan cataloging the latter’s political failures. There is Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi’s letter, also publicized, reporting the failure of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to remit almost U.S.$50 billion over a thirteen month period.

Earlier this week, thirty-seven members of the House of Representatives left the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and joined the principal opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The defectors are from Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Kwara, Rivers, Katsina, and Adamawa states. Five PDP governors have also joined the opposition. They are from Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa, Rivers, and Kwara states. (The map above and here shows the party affiliation of the governors following the PDP defections.) The core of the APC has been the merged political organizations of Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and a major figure in the predominately Yoruba southwest, and Muhammadu Buhari, former military chief of state and perhaps the most popular political figure in the north.

Jonathan appears to be splintering the PDP, hitherto the arena where Nigeria’s competing and cooperating multi-ethnic elites have managed their differences and ensured their access to oil riches. And there does not seem to be an alternative instrument developing for elite coordination to replace the PDP. It is early days yet, and much could change before Nigerians go to the polls in 2015. Nevertheless, the opposition increasingly looks like an alignment of the north with parts of the Middle Belt and the southwest. The states with Nigeria’s two largest cities, Lagos and Kano, are also in the opposition camp. This is not new; there is a long tradition of their opposition to any central government.

The large-scale Boko Haram attack at the beginning of December in Maiduguri also serves as a reminder that the jihadi insurrection continues.

With this constellation of events, will Jonathan in fact run for the presidency in 2015, can he secure the PDP nomination, even if only that of a rump of the party, and if he does secure the nomination, can he win against the opposition?

Before writing Jonathan off, it is worth keeping in mind certain realities.

1)      The power of an incumbent Nigerian president is enormous. He has access to “carrots and sticks” second to none. These include control of the security services and access to almost unlimited amounts of money from oil production.

2)      Jonathan appears to maintain strong support in the Delta, Nigeria’s oil patch. Some of that region’s warlords are closely associated with Jonathan. Some have said that if he is deprived of the nomination or the election, they will set the Delta on fire. That has the potential to dry up the oil revenue upon which the Nigerian elites depend. Elites recognize that reality.

3)      It is by no means certain that the 2015 elections will be free, fair, and credible, despite the continued presence of the well-regarded Attahiru Jega as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. The Anambra state elections last month—seen by many as a dry run for 2015—were an administrative and logistical disaster. That raises the potential that the 2015 elections—if they are held—will not go well, with many possibilities for rigging, and where incumbents will likely be the beneficiaries.

My reading as of today is that Jonathan will run, that his campaign will have something of a PDP fig leaf covering the widening party divisions, and given the fracturing of the Nigerian elites, he is likely to prevail against an opposition candidate. But, the process will be messy and fraught with danger. And there are so many wild cards, not least Boko Haram.

All of this, of course, is based on the assumption that there will be elections in 2015. That, at the moment, may be a leap of faith.